Born Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz ( more widely known as Fantastic Negrito) has always had a voracious appetite for all mediums of art. Following his biopic album, “The Last Days of Oakland” which garnered a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album of 2017, Xavier has returned with an outstanding sequel to attack rock, funk, primitive blues, crime gospel, chain-gang and jazz textures with tenacious candor. “Please Don’t Be Dead” is created by an artist with great ve’rite’.
Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz aka.. Fantastic Negrito
His story begins when his family, (he being the 8th out of 14 children) moves to Oakland, CA… from Massachusetts with their strict Somalian/Muslim father. Xavier fell out of favor with his dad and ran away from home at 12 years old; only to be taken in by a foster family. At this time the soundtrack for the tough streets of Oakland were echoing the sounds of punk rock and hip-hop. He became a “small time- wanna be” street huckster.. selling “leaf” and crack cocaine on the downtown corners and breaking into people’s homes stealing whatever they could walk away with; when he and his unsuspecting “homies” got stopped by some serious “we don’t fuck around” gangstas’! You see, there was this cash from a weapons sales that they wanted… or else! After having a gun pointed at his head the jig was up, so he knew he had to make clean and give up the cash. Xavier knew that being a street thug wasn’t exactly his purpose. He would sneak inside the music rooms at U.C. Berkeley and bang tunes on the piano realizing that he had some real talent. Deciding to follow his instincts he moved to L.A. and pursue music…. The East Bay music scene was blowing up back in the 80’s!..Green Day and Metallica were giving Los Angeles a good race for talent domination for the West Coast. Xavier moves to L.A. to find his fame and fortune in the music world. After knocking on studio doors he hooks up with Prince’s manager(Joe Ruffalo) and signs a contract with him. He opened a lot of the right doors… and miraculously it results in a big money deal with Interscope Records.. signed by label head Jimmy Iovine!.. Life is good…money… promises of fame…all so intoxication for Xavier until,,,,,The worst day of his life occurred.. While driving down Highland Blvd. in Hollywood he got into the most terrible auto accident…The first responding paramedics were stunned that he survived through all of this…. Oh… he was in a coma that went for over three weeks…and when he gained consciousness he learned that he could grow the most awesome beard! All kidding aside, it was worse than terrible. He lost the mobility in his hand and was unable to play the guitar; but with intense physical therapy he learned to manage…If things weren’t shitty enough… he gets dropped from Interscope… he’s pretty much back where he started… He got a few live gigs in Europe and had some of his music get licensed in films/television… He even rented a loft in Downtown L.A… and would throw these “off the hook” parties.. nude girls/hot tubs..CRAZY! Xavier even got himself arrested!… All seemed lost. He sold all his instruments.. Its as if had lost his shadow.
Xavier had a revelation after all his misfortune. Divine intervention led him to his destiny…. He knew that he was good at two things.. selling dope and music. By the will of God it was time to return to Oakland and create an artist conclave… “Blackball Universe”. Its where the art and music of the black experienced would be universally exposed..No longer was music or art going to be judged in corporate boardrooms. Interestingly, his “quah” firmly came back…. even his performance attire reflected a new found confidence.
NPR Music launched a contest back in 2015 to give an undiscovered band a chance to play for the The Tiny Desk Concert Contest. Out of 7,000 submissions divine intervention again chose Negrito as its winner…. The song, “Lost In a Crowd” won the hearts and minds of the contest’s judging panel at NPR.
On one level, “Please Don’t Be Dead” is about leaders and we the people that are being misled by these same leaders. But it’s also about being trapped. Too many Americans are trapped! Along with his “open-wide” sincerity to write lyrics that are regrettably out sized by our nation’s social and political rife.. I believe that his radical based platform ultimately defines his narrative. The lyrics grapples with a message about not losing the faith. We are being forewarned that the real issue, unfortunately… is that the power of apathy just may be stronger than the power of change! Fortunately the power of music can supersede all….
People think the blues is about being miserable. Whether it emanates from the bayous of the deep South and stretches to Chicago via Memphis it’s about exorcising those things that bother you. .. “Please Don’t Be Dead” takes a candid view of what life is like dealing with the issues of being black in America. The third track, “A Letter to Fear” starts with a “Zeppelin” … “Dazed and Confused” bass line that’s all about the hope of abolition of prejudiced.
The album, to its credit caroms all over the place! “Plastic Hamburgers” is about old school Hendrix, East Bay funksters..Tower of Power, Lead Belly and Sly Stone are part of its aural bliss;while it’s the lyrical temperament that resonates. If only Jimi Hendrix were alive now… he would sound like Fantastic Negrito! If you were to go through the bowels of the late Prince’s Paisley Park studio you’d probably hear Fantastic Negrito..
Political activist, rap pioneer and poet Gil Scott-Heron shaped the sound of today’s hip-hop. Whether you’re a fan of rap or not, he was hugely responsible for vilifying the plight of Black America. From Nas, Donald Glover, Kanye , Jay-Z, Ice Cube, Dre to Kendrick Lamar..may preach that Black Lives Matter but Scott- Heron’s insights seemed to matter even more. His catalog has long been a vital source of inspiration for current hip-hop artists. But his influence is far broader than just music. He has been a guiding light as a singer and “proto-rapper”, novelist and poet, teacher and civil-rights activist. Scott-Heron was a high-achieving polymath, so there is plenty to laud: he was a novelist by 20 years old, while his 1970 album politicized by way of rhythmic spoken word. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, preceded gangster rap by a decade! Without his pioneering contributions, Hip-hop wouldn’t have evolved beyond good-time party music. Scott-Heron died on the afternoon of May 2011 from pneumonia .. though never confirmed he had tested positive HIV…
Gil Scott-Heron…. Fantastic Negrito
We were fortunate to have an exclusive interview with Xavier about his vision for Fantastic Negrito ….
Rock Bands of L.A.com:The East Bay… Oakland has always been the epicenter of all sorts of social rife.. The Black Panthers, People’s Park, Anti Viet Nam and The S.L.A (Symbionese Liberation Army)… just to name a few… And they had always fell onto violent times. Your family moves to Oakland… You as a black Muslim artist are thrusted into the “hornet’s nest”… , you created the most positive and beautiful thing… “Blackball Universe”.. It started with music and has expanded.. What is the status of the project now… And where’s it going? Any interesting success stories?
Xavier: First of all I’m not a Black Muslim artist. So I’ll make that very clear. My father was Muslim, and I was raised in a Muslim household until I was 12 years old when I made the decision to run away because I didn’t want to live under the rules of any religion. So that’s very important. I think the biggest success story is that we’re able to exist and put out records that people call “genre-nonspecific” and still be very successful. There’s so many gatekeepers telling us what we should sound like, what we should look like, and what box we should fit in. On this album I was totally free, and this industry doesn’t always support that. But we got a Grammy for the last album, without a label, so hopefully we can empower other artists to push the boundaries. On the music side I worked with Candice Antique Davis on a couple tracks for the album. I’m working with Gaby Moreno. I’m working with the producer Mark Batson out of L.A., and I’m just looking forward to doing more and more collaborations. I’ve also gotten together with Oakland local farmers and restaurateurs and come up with Revolution Plantation — organic farming, for the people, by the people. And our partner Malcolm Spellman is doing big things in film and TV in Los Angeles. But the greatest victory is to just keep existing on this level that is so independent and free.
Sly Stone…. The “Honorable” M.C. Hammer….Tower of Power
Rock Bands of L.A.com:The East Bay was home to some great talent….Sly and the Family Stone, The Honorable M.C. Hammer, Tower of Power…a lot like you, they participated in many outreach programs…Interestingly all these artists, including you… have musical roots passed down with gospel, “chain-gang”, calypso and classic blues. The phrase, “Rock Is Dead”… pisses me off! The subject is such trite internet bait; these false pontificators need to listen to Fantastic Negrito. Your new album is just sensational… It is a rock album… Like Prince, Hendrix and Sly.. After winning a Grammy for best Blues album… wouldn’t be fitting that “Please Don’t Be Dead” receives a nomination in the rock category???
Xavier: Well I don’t like genres. I always say a genre is a good place to hide. I think when you talk about Sly, Prince, Hendrix, Metallica, and E-40, these are just artists who created great music and who transcended genres and I think it’s so important that we focus on having great content rather than trying to fit into genres. Sure it would be great to be nominated in Rock. But I don’t make albums to win Grammys or get recognized, that’s a trap.
Rock Bands of L.A.com: Political activist, rap pioneer and poet Gil Scott-Heron shaped the sound of today. Whether you’re a fan of rap or not Heron was hugely responsible for vilifying the plight of Black America. From Talib Kweli and Kanye West, Nas, Jay-Z, Ice Cube to Kendrick Lamar..may preach that Black Lives Matter but his insights still matter “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”… Sure there’s a lot of chatter regarding Childish Gambino’s video for “This Is America”..but at the end of the day its mere sensationalism and violent. The greatest issue plaguing American rife is apathy… Do you think music can create the momentum for change like it did in the 70’s?
Xavier:I think you’re right about apathy, it’s an atmosphere of apathy. The new opiate for the masses is the application of social media. All we can do is do our part — and we can do a lot individually. It’s really up to people, and everyone has a platform now so you really have a chance to contribute something good if you want to. And I think anything can happen and always will happen. Change is inevitable, that’s what human beings do. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. I just know that Fantastic Negrito is going to do our part and I hope everyone does theirs.
Rock Bands of L.A.com:Your band is amazing… what great musicians… Do you write all your music yourself or do they get involved? How long have they been your band?
Xavier: Well I write all my music, and thank you for the compliment by the way. My studio band is different band from my touring band. My studio band, I’ve known these guys for 20 years and we’ve done everything together. My touring band is somewhat of a revolving door because of schedules and the economics of the business. But they are all great players, and I’m grateful to work with them.
We’d like to thank Fantastic Negrito and his great team of workers that supports him and of course Kevin Sutter….
Fantastic Negrito’s concert schedule…https://fantasticnegrito.com/pages/tour .